The story that came too late

Sadness pulled his arms around me and held me close. In the close comfort of grief, I could cry.I could weep and it was justified because I was literally enveloped in Sadness. Sadness waited until the hiccups were gone, until my eyes had run bloodshot and the tears had saturated all the tissue paper I had to spare. It was a strange feeling relishing the sheer volume of tears that I wept and the way my body actually responded to Sadness.

“Are we done with this now?” Reason tapped my shoulder, exhausted from the ordeal and requesting on behalf of the rest of my body and life that I stop stringing my high-strung brain even further. Reason does not understand why I’m sitting here weeping, and why this weeping has to happen. It must be allowed to continue, tissue paper or otherwise. He tapped my shoulder in an attempt to get me to my senses.

“Go. Away. Please.”

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” said Reason, unable to hide the disgust and left to make my excuses to the rest of the world.

When I woke up the next day, I was cold and without the comfort of Sadness. Perhaps it was a good thing he wasn’t here, and I could tell that Reason was very glad to see him go. I used to ask Reason why and he would always say that he could get across to me only when Sadness was not around.

“Um, so what’s her condition?” I asked of the patient upstairs.

“I don’t know. Someone asked me to leave.” By someone I knew Reason meant me and when he was not on his best behavior, I could tell that I had done something wrong. Something that went against Reason.

“I would have checked in on her if she wanted me anywhere near her”, muttered Reason. He wanted to be helpful. He wanted to show that he could genuinely care, if caring was within reason. But she didn’t want him anywhere near her and she was adamant, even on her possible death-bed, about enforce this restriction. “Reason has nothing to do with this,” she screeched. The rest of us were too intimidated by her to argue otherwise.

I walked into the patient’s room, bracing myself for the storm that was to follow, rehearsing every single line I had thought of to her face and an enumeration of the ways I could convey it to her.

“You’ve been crying last night,” she said.

“I have…”

“Sadness does have comfortable shoulders, doesn’t he?”

“He does…”

“You don’t seem too affected by his presence though.”

“I’m not. For once in my life, I genuinely don’t regret crying.”

“It’s a sign that you’re still alive.”

It’s also why he left me cold in the morning. What can I possibly say to this fragile creature who was withering away before my very eyes, letting go of life finger by finger and taking her time to slide gracefully to death?

“Bet Reason must have been beyond confused.”

“He was. He wanted to talk to you about some things, which he feels might make you better.”

“Poor Reason. Trying to be useful all the time.”

“He’s only trying to help you. You should listen to him.”

“I never listen to reason. It’s in my nature. You, of all people, should know that.”

“I am acutely aware of that.”

“Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

“I don’t know. I suppose if Sadness is around, I might.”

“Otherwise?”

“There’s always Reason.”

“You don’t listen to him as often as you should.”

I was not going to tolerate shrewd observations from her once wild, tumultuous and untamed form. “Maybe if you had, things would not have come to this.”

“Maybe.”

“……There’s something I have to tell you.”

“What?”

“I’m scared of what will happen if you go away and never come back.” Is this what all the trepidation had fallen to? The words sounded like an anticlimax in my own ears.

“You mean when I die? Don’t worry, it’s only natural.”

“Is it though? Sadness never seems to die.”

“Yeah, but that’s what makes him old and immortal and weird. Rebirth is how I keep my skin glowing.”

“Shallow.”

“But true nonetheless. You could say I have an affliction like Reason does. We have to feel useful. We have to feel like we’re driving our goals to an end.”

“….Why can’t the endings be happy?” The tears were about to come back and she nearly hissed at me.

“For God’s sake, I love you and I wanted to talk to you and not Sadness. Don’t you dare invite his creepy form in here.”

“I thought you liked him. As in, you enjoyed his company. Or his shoulders. Or something.” I started to wipe the tears that hadn’t yet fallen.

“Sometimes. Now is not one of those times.”

In all of this conversation, she had been growing increasingly pale and I suddenly realized that if she grew any paler, she would have merged into the background and that would have been almost as good as dying on me.

“Um. So. You’ve wasted all of my time arguing with me. I’m about to go now.”

“Please don’t,” I said, desperately clutching her hand, keenly aware of the shadow of Sadness that waited just outside the door, waiting for me to explode into his arms again.

“It has to be done,” she said with a finality that left me hollow.

“Will you never ever come back? Please? Not even for Reason’s sake?”

But she had gone. She had left me without answering the question and I did not know how to interpret her permanent silence. I reeled for a while knowing that she hadn’t answered. Did she mean yes? Did that mean that she would truly abandon me?

Reason was the first one to come to me when I left the room, but Sadness was waiting behind him, almost respectfully. I wanted to show Reason how much Sadness respected his presence, how humble he was in the presence of Reason, but I knew that Reason would not listen to me as much as I didn’t listen to him.

“Love has died, hasn’t she?”

Ten Minute Obsessions

The following story may or may not be autobiographical. More about the male character who inspired the persona.

Pakhi was exhausted. She had a long, tiring, athletic day at school and she had never been more welcome to its closure. People were milling out of class when she returned, dusty and fatigued, to pick up her belongings and leave. Her hair was messy. Her clothes were caked with evidence of an afternoon spent playing matches in the fields. Her collar was unbuttoned, the school tie flailed around in disarray and her sleeves were rolled up to expose tanned arms. The ostentatious sports watch on her wrist beeped, cutting through the ambient echoes of the last few students leaving the classroom. Pakhi was waiting, in an empty classroom, anticipating the inevitable.

Despite her exhaustion, Pakhi grabbed her backpack, swept all the miscellaneous contents of her desk into it and ran to the school gate. Perhaps the heavy bag impeded her progress, but Pakhi did not want to return to claim it later. In any case, her haste ensured that she as at the crossing a few minutes earlier than expected. This was the moment she had been waiting for. The dust and pollution of the road swirled past her as the signal turned red and the dense traffic cumulatively screeched to a halt. Fellow pedestrians began to lead an exodus at the crossing, but Pakhi was not one of them.

Pakhi had not yet mastered the bravado it took to jay walk the busy road, especially with a backpack of that order of magnitude. The traffic would pause only for ten minutes, so she should have crossed. But she didn’t. Ten minutes of her life were worth it. Pakhi willed herself to wait. She could cross at the next red light if she wanted to, but she was not going to sacrifice the ten most important minutes of her life.

Bus no. 8472 was a very special bus. Unlike the other rusty, out-dated buses which squelched up fuel remnants and an obnoxiously nauseating quantity of smoke, it was one of the newer models that the city’s administration planned to implement. It traveled a fairly long and well-chalked out route designed to maximize commuter connectivity. However, all of these attributes did not impress Pakhi. She was vested in this particular vehicle for an entirely different reason altogether.

When the 8472 halted at the red-light, within minutes of its scheduled time, Pakhi’s eyes searched amongst it’s numerous passengers along the windows of the right side of the bus. The person she was searching for had thus far, always been a fan of scenery, sitting along one or the other window seats, depending on the availability. Sure enough, two rows from the back, he was there. He was leaning against the glass window pane, neck studiously inclined over a book, earphones comfortably nestled in his ear.

Ten minutes seemed too short as the bus soon whisked him away to his destination. But not before Pakhi’s hungry and observant eyes had absorbed his fleeting image. Those ten minutes would  be enough.

“I wonder what kind of music you listen to,” wondered Pakhi, remembering the undulating wire that connected to his ear.

“Nothing extraordinary. Just the usual heavy metal, punk rock or whatever,” he replied. He was right next to her, hands in mud-smeared pockets, shuffling around in the dust in his muddy school shoes. There was something disarmingly attractive about the way he seemed awkward. “What about you?”

“Actually, I prefer anything that doesn’t sound like noise. But occasionally, I listen to metal too.”

“Not all the time, no.”

“You’re one of the first girls’ I’ve met who would say that. I didn’t think you were one of those types.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” smiled Pakhi, trying not to stare too obviously into his eyes.

A loud honk from the incoming traffic made Pakhi realize that she was stranded in the middle of the main road. She scurried across, trying to evade as many vehicles as she could, without causing a major traffic disruption. Somehow, crossing over the huge, busy road, which seemed wider than usual, Pakhi told herself that she was crossing some large gulf of humanity.

Across the road and into the lane, all was quiet. Tucked away from common sight, and mostly obscured from view from the heavy traffic that passed by it’s entrance. Now, she contemplated the lonely stretch towards home. The alley was lined with houses and on a weekday afternoon, a very profound silence settled over it. Almost foreboding. Pakhi’s exhaustion returned gradually.

But at least she had seen him, and he had spoken to her. That’s what mattered, didn’t it?

“Rough afternoon?” he asked. He was back again, right beside her, a bit taller than her. Pakhi noted his dust-caked hair wave slightly under effect of the slight breeze that rushed past the lane. He was athletic, she knew. There could be no other explanation for how much dirt he accumulated on his uniform. Pakhi wanted to reach out and dust off his spiky hair, and she wondered how she might approach that without frightening him off.

Instead she found the smooth, polished door of home before her outstretched fingers.

She felt that she had forgotten to answer something. “Uhm, sort of,” she said, a little flustered at how rapidly she had traversed the distance. “You look like you’ve been through no less.”

“Hmm. I guess you know how it is,” he shrugged casually, meandering around. Pakhi couldn’t resist flashing him a smile.

Only the ebony staircase rails and the smooth marble floor reflected them back at her. Pakhi pushed up her glasses on her nose, not yet accustomed to the rude interruptions of reality. She needed to focus on what she was actually doing. She smiled again, but it wasn’t the same bright flash. It was more of a soft, melancholy half-smile. She wondered what the world outside her perceived her as: the tall, awkward girl who perpetually talked to herself.

“How was your day?” asked Pakhi, putting up the keys and sinking into the couch with a bottle of cold water. Currently the only occupant of the house, the silence reminded her of the busy mornings she left behind, and of the work she had pending.

“Pretty ordinary, “he said. “I mean, we had and classes as usual, a couple of games here and there. Some of our teachers are stressed out because we have tests next week and they haven’t yet finished the course material.” He got up from the couch, beside Pakhi and followed her around as she popped a plate of her lunch into the microwave. Pakhi’s attention was momentarily occupied by the fact that the difference between the quantity of lunch that had been prepared and the quantity that had been left behind clearly indicated that she was home alone for the entire afternoon. He was sitting next to her and continuing the conversation.

“Hey,” remembered Pakhi, from some depth of hospitality, “You want something to eat?”

“Nope. I grabbed a bite before I left school.”

Pakhi settled with her plate, listened to his stories, narrated her own, and laughed with the spirit of animated conversation. He could be so witty and charming at times.

Suddenly, the telephone rang. It pierced the echoes of Pakhi’s solitary laughter. All of a sudden, the world showed to Pakhi that she was being amused by an empty chair against a blank white wall. Reluctant, lost and feeling suddenly alone, she picked up the phone.

“Yes mom? I’m fine. Just finishing lunch.”

“You don’t sound fine. Is everything okay?”

“Just tired mom. I’ve got a lot of work as well. I’ll catch up with you later?”

“I’ll be coming home late, sweetheart.”

“That’s alright. I have my work to keep me occupied. I’ll manage. Love you too. Bye.” He was lounging on the couch, content and lazy, when she terminated the call.

“My mom checks up on me frequently,” she said, supplying an explanation for why she left her meal mid-way. Or had she interrupted one of his stories? “She gets worried when I’m isolated and what not. I mean, I’ve learned to deal with living alone…”

“But you aren’t really alone, are you?”

He had inched closer to Pakhi leaning against the wall. She could feel his breath and see his neck under his open collar and loose tie. She wondered what it would be like to kiss him.

“Not when you’re around,” said Pakhi, being the perpetual tease and twisting free.

He smiled a mischievously. It was a smile that stayed with her and followed her. He knew she was playing and he was welcome to join in.

Whether minutes or hours passed, Pakhi was unsure. But she resolved to settle down to her messy desk. She cleared up some space by haphazardly stacking up a few giant volumes on her table. They towered over her intimidatingly, a paper monster of problem sets and pending reading. Armed with a pencil, and a hope of some resolve, she opened her textbook, ready to annotate, when a soft chuckle interrupted her. He was still leaning against the wall, holding her gaze with those eyes that deluded her.

“Yeah, okay. So you’re a genius and you’ve aced all your tests. But I’m not. So go away and let me study,” said Pakhi testily.

He leaned forward, “Ever wondered that I could help you with that?”

Pakhi suppressed a chuckle. How was it going to be possible for her to focus when he was around her all the time? Once again, Pakhi was caught unaware by his eyes. She shrugged herself and shook her head. Why couldn’t she accept he was not real? But whenever her eyes drifted off the printed lines, he would appear to her. More so, his comforting presence did not let her feel so alone.

Pakhi decided to put some music on to help her focus better. She accidentally locked the volume controls to max and spent a few minutes scrambling around uneasily, trying to get them back to audible range before the neighbors put in a strong word about it.

“So you listen to this?!” he yelled indignantly over the deafening sounds. Pakhi hurriedly wrestled around with it until it was below lethal levels.

“How can you call this rubbish music and metal noise? Metal has meaning, it has depth!”

It struck Pakhi rather suddenly that he was being judgmental and more so, juvenile. She felt a bit sensitive to his criticism.

“Oh shut up and go away!”

And Pakhi was left behind in an empty room, in an empty house with the muted lyrics of home and hope and all the belongings of her room as the silent spectators of Pakhi’s delusions.

When the doorbell rang, Pakhi’s father had arrived. As he bustled around the house, made himself something to eat and drink and asked about Pakhi’s day, she realized how truly alone she felt.  Stop daydreaming, Pakhi! Focus on reality she complained for the umpteenth time. After the formalities of filial conversation, Pakhi’s father curled back on the couch with a novel and left Pakhi to her studies. For a while, Pakhi wondered what she should talk to her Dad about, if at all she could. But then, he seemed tired after a long day, so he probably needed the quiet. At about 9 pm, father and daughter had a quiet dinner, interspersed with a few minutes of the TV. Her mother rushed in an hour late, too tired for anything else besides the soft, undemanding comforts of home and family.

Pakhi stayed up late in the night, sensing his presence, feeling his glance, but she refrained from conversation. Her music player had already begun to churn out melancholy, sentimental songs. Pakhi could see disgust all over his face as the vocalist’s soft, gentle crooning caressed her headphones. Pakhi took her headphones off and shut it. The familiar silence crept back.

“You know, I should stop talking to you. I mean, I know I’m weird enough as, but if people start catching me talking to myself, my future’s in an asylum.”

“You worry too much. You talk too much. Maybe you should just let it happen.”

“What?”

“This,” he said, hands gesturing vaguely as he sat at the edge of her bed.

“But its not real!”

His expression hardened, “Who said so?”

“I mean, you’re just a figment of my imagination. You’re my best friend, my confidante, my constant companion. But in the real world, the world where I go to school, try to live a normal life, worry about tests, I don’t know you! I barely get to see you for ten minutes at some crossing when the 8472 comes by! The worst is that all this happens inside my head and I can’t do anything about it!”

“It’s real enough to you, isn’t it?” He asked. He sounded hurt.

“I’m not saying I don’t enjoy having you by my side..”

“You like me, don’t you?” he said, cutting her mid-sentence. Pakhi’s confused response wasn’t helped by his eyes at all.

“I do, but…”

“I’m here with you now, right?” He had moved closer.

“Yes, but…”

“Isn’t that what really matters?” His eyes. Uh-oh.

Pakhi finally resisted the onslaught. “But you’re not real!” She threw a pillow at him in frustration. It landed with a soft thud through the air. The silence, the misery, the complete futility of reality had returned. Now he’s upset. Now I’m alone.

He’s never going to know of my existence in the real world. We’ve spoken for twenty minutes in a span of nearly two years. He doesn’t know who I am, and even if he does, I could never find the courage to actually approach him. He probably knows me as that awkward girl who has a crush on him. The rumors were already circulating in school.

Pakhi cried herself to sleep and sank into the oblivion of twisted dreams. Even in that realm, he wove in and out of her sight, of her hope, of her existence.

Pakhi woke up and took a long, critical look at herself in the mirror. She looked tired. She felt barely rested. The first word that ran through her head was his name. She felt depressed.

“Sweetheart! You’re getting late for school!” cried her mother across the hallway. She came really late and she’s up before me. I can’t imagine how tired she must be feeling, wondered Pakhi.

“She’s right, you know,” said the dreaded, familiar voice.

“So, you’re back after last night?” asked Pakhi, feeling disturbed.

“You called my name…” He shrugged casually, as if that was explanation enough.

“Go away. I still don’t want to talk to you.”

“Whatever. Suit yourself.”

Pakhi finished wearing a clean school uniform and then tried to follow up with breakfast. Dad was awake and at home, so Pakhi hoped that they could have a lively entertaining breakfast? Maybe it would help her take her mind off someone? Besides the regular “Good Morning!” and her mother’s constant nagging to eat some more, nothing happened. Pakhi’s mother was tied up in managing breakfast and a frequently beeping laptop. Pakhi’s father hid himself behind the newspapers, emerging only occasionally to ask for a fresh mug of coffee.

“So much for conversation,” he said, whispering right in her ear. Pakhi shrugged involuntarily. She glared at him to make him disappear.

“Why are you staring at the window, Pakhi?” asked her mother. Oh if only she knew.

“Nothing, Mom,” said Pakhi, momentarily pacifying her.

“Well then, hurry up or you’ll be late!”

After several hasty farewells, Pakhi rushed for school.

Parents, commuters, cars and the ordinary pedestrians swarmed the streets. Pakhi was swamped with the sights and sounds of life. Even then, she felt a lack of companionship. As she jostled through people, dodged cars and succeeded in crossing the road, Pakhi felt the real world catch up with her, but she could not, she would not be able to let go of these helpless feelings.

Unfortunately, as she approached her classroom, meeting more tangible, real people,  her myriad desolate philosophical thoughts submerged into the background, threatening to return once she was alone again. She obviously couldn’t be seen as a pathetic, love-sick, more so lonely freak. So she plastered on a cheery smile and told herself that she was strong enough. She had to be strong enough. At least till the end of the work day.

It annoyed Pakhi to no end, that even when she was busy, even when she was with her friends, she could still sense his presence. During recess, during her free classes, she knew he was watching her. Or more so, she hoped that he would have been watching her.

Pakhi walked past a gossiping group of classmates to retrieve a book. She couldn’t help but eavesdrop. They were talking about him!  Unable to resist hearing whatever little information about him she could pick up from the real world, she tried to find an innocent reason for lurking around. Soon enough, she didn’t need to find an excuse to justify her unwarranted presence. Their conversation casually touched upon her, and her apparent crush on him.

She was stunned. They know! They all know! Despite her attempts to downplay it, they all knew! They laughed at the paltry amusement and moved on to other topics of interest. But it seemed more than merely trivial to Pakhi. She cringed at the mention of his name and at the memory of his watching, expressionless, silent face.

At the end of another day, it was time for Pakhi to redeem her cherished ten minutes. Pakhi soon found herself back at the crossing, waiting for the 8472. He was talking to her to make her feel less alone. He was trying to be audible over the din of the traffic.

“So all your friends know. Does that make it real enough?”

On its regular schedule, the 8472 rolled in and halted to a stop right before her. Her eyes customarily located him at the second-last row. He doesn’t even bother to look at me, she wondered and was ready to give up.

The impossible happened. It was almost as if the universe wanted to gift her only to be able to prove her convictions wrong. He looked up from his book, looked out of the window at the world outside and in one momentous millisecond, his real, physical eyes scanned through Pakhi’s expectant face. Before he knew it, that face had gone.

“No,” she said, wondering if she was talking to herself or to him. “It’s never going to be real enough.” Pakhi waited for the next signal, musing whether her dreams were akin to the dust that was rapidly coating her socks and shoes. In any case, she had a long, lonely walk back to an empty home. Was she ready to embrace that complete silence of solitude? Such was life. Or was it?

“Come on. You know you want to tell me how your day went,” he said.

Pakhi couldn’t resist. “So today….” she began, on the same cycle. Again.

Red Lipstick

I had this very uncharacteristic epiphany as I passed by the Sephora near Times Square, on a bone-drenching Tuesday afternoon where I was trying to navigate past the stampede of DSLR-bearing tourists without an umbrella. I don’t know why, and I perhaps can’t explain this is in any other way except for a sudden uprising of my feminine side, but I really wanted to wear a red lipstick. Call it a flashback of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani and every other woman in the world who has wielded the red lipstick, but it doesn’t just ooze color, it oozes confidence.

I hope this post doesn’t make me appear superficial because I seriously am investing my words and time into describing red lipstick and what I feel about it. But honestly, I had never experienced such a strong, inexplicable feeling from owning, wearing or even using a tube of red pigment.

There’s a milieu of research and articles and information about how red lipstick has been known to boost self-esteem because many women deem themselves worthy of self-care when they apply it. There has been research that shows that in times of economic hardship, red lipstick is the most frequent and common impulse acquisition. Corroborate this with the fact that red lipstick brings attention to our mouth and what comes out of it. Lastly, red lipstick serves as a marker of sexual arousal. Therefore, women who wear red lipstick are perceived as sexually confident, attractive, dominant, assertive and feminine.

And I, a straggling, awkward, wet, somewhat lost, umbrella-deprived just-barely-post-adolescent decided, right after finishing a $5 pad thai and battling the screeching wind, that I wanted to wear red lipstick.

As I’m a poor non-financially independent college kid, I decided that making my virgin purchase from Sephora from New York City (8.875% retail tax, thank you very much) was pushing the financial freedom I had been bestowed a little too much. So I splurged on an affordable stick of Revlon. To be honest, I was overwhelmed with the shades and colors and variants. After all, what is the difference between lipstick, lip-butter, lip-tint, lip-stain and basically every other item that is prefixed with a “lip”?

The next few seconds found me frantically asking Google which generic red would serve my purpose. I say generic because there apparently exists a whole other science in color-matching with skin-tones, which seemed to require another college education to master completely. Honestly, I just wanted a red lipstick and I wasn’t having any of the baggage or expertise or qualification that came with acquiring one humble tube of the stuff.

I almost felt shameless in ripping off the packaging as soon as I had swiped my credit card for it, but I did. I was so scared of being judged for putting on red lipstick in public, that I sneaked into a cubicle at a public restroom and used my phone-camera as a mirror. I don’t understand why I should feel safer putting it on inside a cubicle, when I very well could have used a public mirror outside the stalls, But I eased myself into it gently.

One swipe. Deep gasp. Too much color. Look at that, you look like a vampire after a lunch buffet. Blot. Blot. Blot. Blot. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Wipe. Then blot some more until the tissue paper is wearing the entirety of the one swipe and my lips look reassuringly normal. In an instant I felt as though all my stupid, naive and momentary dreams of sporting red lipstick had faded. For that one crushing moment, I remembered how I had been labeled “not pretty enough” and instead of a noble quest to discover the feminine, I felt as though I was part of a cheap charade. That somehow my awkwardness had made me unworthy of desiring to be confident, let alone desired.

But I didn’t give in to the cowardice. Everybody has to start somewhere. The only person judging me is myself. If I don’t experiment at this age, then I will never experiment at all. Fostering what could perhaps be called a scientific curiosity at the outcome of the experiment, I tried again. Half a swipe. Blend with finger. It took me a while, but I added on layer after layer until my lips had reached what I deemed as a very appropriate shade of red. Not vampire drool but just red.

And I wore it home. I promised myself that once it was on, I wouldn’t fidget with it. Leave it alone. You can’t see what’s on your face anymore, so it’s not your problem. I didn’t think it would last for more than an hour, but once I verified my reflection in the waning daylight, I actually felt happy with myself. I actually felt as though I wanted people to see and validate my red lips. It’s stupid and I know it sounds very silly, but as a few heads turned, I wanted to smile and tell them, “Look, I’m growing into a woman now.”

But I didn’t. For making baby steps, I surpassed my expectations and maybe someday, I won’t even need to tell people aloud. Even if I might look like another girl with make-up on, at least the mirror smiles back knowingly to me.

Reference Links (all the historical lipstick knowledge didn’t dawn on me from nowhere):

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html

https://psychologies.co.uk/body/the-power-of-red-lipstick.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick

Real research here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278431912000497

And another one: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijps/article/viewFile/15080/11738

 

Romance, race and questions of identity

Sometimes I feel that my opinions or perspectives are less judged harshly when a fictional character speaks them instead of a true human being. But maybe it’s time to express a few of my opinions as personal, however unpalatable they might be deemed. I haven’t talked about romance for a while on my blog, and recently something has come across which has spiked my radar.

I decided to put one fine Monday of my summer to good use: foray the universe of Harry Potter fan-fiction. For whatever expectation I had of fan-fiction, this work has surpassed it completely and I must somewhat shamefully admit that I am addicted to re-reading this whenever I can. I don’t want to sound like I favor one fandom over another, but here is a Draco-Hermione version that actually does the characters justice. Bex-chan, the author of this fabulous work has my immense support and gratitude. If you are above 18 and you so dare, here it is: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

I have recently been trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be ashamed of secretly indulging in a good/turbulent/passionate love story every once in a while. Given that I have a history of severely shunning the feminine aspects of me and my awful, short romantic history, I feel that the appeal in reading a good love story lies in that I can picture myself as the female protagonist easily, and be assured of having my affections returned. After all, it is flattering to be admired, isn’t it? It is flattering to know that someone out there who is charming and attractive cares about you, accepts you for who you are, changes you into a better person and embodies perfection. Even if such a person is a work of fiction. Even if the high is momentary. For that period when you are trapped between pages of your escapism, the assumption of guaranteed admiration is enough.

So there I was, several chapters down and embodying the very spirit of Hermione, until I realized that the physical descriptions started to fail. My illusion began to fall apart because even though the romance between a Muggle-born and a pure blood wizard sounds tenuous, it is far more tenuous to assume that someone will transcend the cultural baggage that I carry from home and the ethnic boundaries that my tradition has established. How can I ever expect someone in the real world to adapt to the collection of dissimilarities that I am? At what point does the illusion become too lovely to be real and should I stop this stupid fragile heart of mine from nursing the notion that perhaps someday I will experience something similar?

At the other end of the spectrum is the Yellow Fever syndrome or equivalents. The idea that someone’s availability is dependent sorely on how exotic they are. There’s research on this as well, and it is encompassed by an umbrella theory called “Exotic is erotic” by Dr. Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University. This is the borderline racist territory that we, as human beings, are superficial to the point where we reduce a strong relationship to the mere fascination of the obvious.

I apologize if I sound like a pessimist, but too often I see this portrayed in real life. There may be many multiracial couples, but they are sparse in the Indian community that I interact with. There are many examples of Indian boys from back home who would unabashedly admire the blond girl in shorts and would even frequent many a frat party or so to “get with” her. But should they chance upon an Indian girl there, her reputation is ruined forever. She is no longer one of the girls that they can take home and show to their mother how pure/chaste/marriageable she is, even though they’d rather hook up with the blond girl that with her. My hope is that the “many examples” are not all, and perhaps even beyond the boundaries of race and ethnicity there are people who love other people for simply being people.

For a very long time, I had tacitly assumed that I could never be perceived as desirable by anyone who was not Indian, and even among them I was perceived to be as quite the oddball. But I have put in a lot of work on my self-esteem (namely by focusing my anxiety and efforts elsewhere), and I have realized that perhaps there is more than just beauty, more than even an attraction to a personality that boils down to a relationship. From the relationships that surround me, I know that a lot of what is love appears to be duty, sacrifice, teamwork and the tenacity to ride through the hard times. Even then, do I dare to hope that even some of the glamour of intense attachment will come alive from the pages and touch my life?

Perhaps it has already touched my life. Perhaps a corner of my mind is softly wrapping up the memories like delicate figurines for the one day when love will come knocking again. Until then, I continue to read and be overwhelmed with vicarious joy.

Reference links:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart/201304/yellow-fever-the-exotification-asian-women

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1002050303320#page-1

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-01742-006

 

 

Daughter I

When Sudha had been born, Nikesh loved her just as much as he loved her older brother, Akshay. He had even chosen the name for her: Sudha from the Sanskrit word for nectar. Nikesh had always wanted a daughter and he spoiled Sudha with his constant tender affection. The elders of the community often laughed at his doting parentage. After all, daughters are destined to be married off in the future. They declared that Nikesh was inevitably setting himself up for a heartbreak when the time would come for her to leave the nest. Nikesh would reserve his sharper comments and politely mention that such a departure was quite a while away.

Rohini however wished that Sudha was anything but a daughter. She had chosen to marry Nikesh because he was such a refreshing break with his liberal ways, but she knew that her choice was limited to the fact that their families had arranged their alliance first. She often feared that the liberalism would peel away to the years of tradition and conditioning, and that someday her beloved Sudha would find herself bearing the weight of conservatism just as she and all the generations behind her did. She could not predict when Nikesh would succumb to the pressure of their community to let Sudha be treated just as any other girl child in their community.

Rohini still remembered the night before Sudha’s third birthday. Nikesh had come to her room after ensuring that Akshay and his little sister were safely in bed. He held both of Rohini’s hands and led her to the edge of the bed.

“Listen, I want to talk to you about Sudha,” he began and Rohini suddenly began to feel alarmed from the serious tone in his voice. Nikesh instinctively sensed her fingers curl up and began to softly rub his thumbs across the back of her hand to calm her down.

“What is it?” Rohini was unable to mask the anxiety in her voice. The fear of bearing a daughter was catching up with her and she began to suspect the worst.

“Sudha is almost going to be three, and I was wondering how you would feel if I sent her to a school. An English school.”

“Send her to a school?!”

As the only daughter from her family, Rohini had bowed to the Draconian rules which had denied her an education. From the archives of her faded memory, she remembered a time of classrooms and slate-boards and homework. One day, when she was ten, she was forcibly withdrawn from the school by her family. Rohini had to then learn the exhaustive skills of being a good housekeeper so that she would have some claim to marriageability as she grew older. School ended with her childhood.

Nikesh felt the need to hurriedly explain himself to his wife and he was unsure of how she was processing the information. He did not want Sudha to grow up with the same deep gender bias which was so strongly rooted in their customs. He wanted Sudha to be as competent and capable as Akshay. He was willing to invest time, money and emotion into equating the gap. But he wasn’t going to proceed without his wife’s consent. She was after all more knowledgeable in how a woman would grow and he had come to respect her common sense, despite her lack of formal education.

“For how long?” asked Rohini tentatively after Nikesh finished his speech. Nikesh was caught unawares by the question. “For how long do you want to keep her in school?”

“Rohini, I think school is just going to be a start. I want her to be properly educated and accomplished. I want her to be a member of society who does more than just be a mother. I hope that’s what you want too. I am only one of her two parents.”

Years of suppressed feminism came to the fore and Rohini agreed. Of course I want my child to be educated. Of course I want her to succeed, to be just as good or as capable as any man. It sank into Rohini just what a marvel of a man her husband was. Even though he was the better educated of the two, he had asked her opinion. He had not mandated an order. At the back of her head, she could hear the sneers of her community. Educating a daughter? Completely? What a waste of time and money.

“What will the others say?” asked Rohini, drowning out the chastising whispers at the back of her head with her own voice.

“I don’t care,” said Nikesh almost nonchalantly. He did care somewhat, but only to the extent that it made him feel like a rebel, uprising against the treatment that his mother, his sisters and his wife received. He was not going to restrict her mind and opinions and thoughts and feelings. He could not bear the thought of raising his beloved adorable child like a ceremonial cow, to be disposed off with pomp when the occasion arrived. But he wasn’t going to show his fear to Rohini.

“…But they will ask…”

If they did, she would have to share the blame. The women would ask her why she dared to let her husband educate her daughter when she could be far more useful at home. The women would ask her why she didn’t influence his decision strongly enough. After all, he was a man. What did he know of growing up to be a woman in their society? The gossip would fly. The women would say, “Oh, they probably didn’t think their daughter was pretty enough or skilled enough to be married and keep a home, so they probably educated her in a desperate attempt to make her more desirable.”

“Their talking doesn’t change anything.”

Rohini felt his hands grow cold and she realized that she had to be strong for him and for the three year old toddler cuddled up with her brother in the next room. Some part of her mind despaired why she was going against the tide. Perhaps it would be easier for them as a family to go with the flow and manage their lives as the generations before them had. Then, she realized that being a part of Nikesh’s individual rebellion was a part of the struggle that she had endured all her life and she was no stranger to difficult circumstances. Sometimes, Rohini sought the comfort of religion to soothe her anxiety. She used to bristle at the fact that nowhere in the scriptures was it mentioned that the women should be denied an education. If anything, their numerous pantheon hosted some of the most powerful goddesses. Perhaps time, convenience and biased interpretations had eaten away at the legends like dust. She comforted herself knowing that she wasn’t doing anything sinful. If anything, educating her daughter could enlighten her about religion and perhaps bring her closer to spiritual service than Rohini herself could be.

But then another calamity befell. She remembered that he had insisted on an English school. What if Sudha grew up absorbing the Western culture? What if Sudha should completely forsake and abandon the social customs that had rigidly maintained their world for so many years? What if this education turned out to be their imminent downfall, and Sudha somehow brought disgrace to them and her ancestors by adopting the alien ways of the West?

“Why English?” asked Rohini, hoping that she could find a loophole in his argument this time that her feminine charm could distort back to reality.

“I don’t intend to stay in this city forever, Rohini. If we are to go places and accomplish things, we have to speak the language that the others speak and English is the most common of them all. It’s not too hard to learn, don’t worry. My brother and I had to learn it, and it’s a part of Akshay’s curriculum from next year.”

“But…..do English schools teach our scriptures? Why can’t we send her to a local school? Surely they teach the same numbers and things?” she asked again.

“I don’t know, Rohini. I feel that an English education would be wholesome,” said Nikesh, sensing a real cause for concern. Rohini remained silent but Nikesh felt her fingers retract in the unmistakable way when she found her strength shaking, and his determination faltered.

“If you’re worried that she will grow up wrong in any way, she will still be housed under our roof.”

He felt empty saying it because he felt as though he did not have a strong argument to support him. Now it appeared that he was resorting to the value-system of the very same mechanism that he was rebelling against. Any culture that stagnates is eventually doomed to die. But Nikesh was unsure that Rohini would accept his abstract philosophy. Some part of him claimed that Rohini didn’t need to understand and she probably didn’t. Why should he bother with asking her opinion anyway? She was no more than a product of strict upbringing behind narrow walls and narrow minds.

Hypocrite. Nikesh banished the thought immediately, recognizing that he was giving in to the pressure. He would have to provide the safety net for Rohini and himself, and he wanted to treat her as an equal in this process, no matter how difficult it would be. It was easy to point out the flaws of the culture they lived in, but as parents he had now taken on the additional responsibility of filtering the better aspects of a cultural upbringing to their child.

“Rohini, I know this is difficult. But please trust me when I say that we are doing the right thing.”

“I’m not questioning that but…”

“I may not know all the pitfalls that come our way, but I need your support,” said Nikesh and he had never sounded so vulnerable.

“…We are bound together in this,” admitted Rohini rather lamely as she tried to rally all her strength.

“I’ll fill in the paperwork for Sudha’s school,” said Nikesh rather suddenly and he left the room. He wanted to distract his mind with action so that the deeper ramifications wouldn’t eat away at his conscience. He was also very suddenly alarmed that his guard dropped before his wife, and he needed some time alone to figure that out.

When Nikesh left, Sudha invoked the divine in the practiced Sanskrit whispers and prayed that the deities would protect and guide her family. As she chanted the names and legends, she felt that she would take Sudha’s religious education personally into her own hands if required. Let the schools teach her what they will. Sudha would not grow up to dishonor the universal force which kept Rohini’s world together, even though Nikesh was radically restructuring the methods behind it.

What it means to wear a sari

Wrap the first part around your waist. Remember as the silk eludes your fingers that this is the same token of feminine glory that your mother, her mother and all the mothers who came before her wore with dignity. This was what it meant to be a woman. No longer are you the small girl, or even the awkward adolescent.

Pleat by pleat, twist your fingers to capture the folds and then bunch them together to form the flowing folds that tucks in neatly at the front. When you walk,  each fold expands to accommodate your stride. When you stand, they shall remain vertically undisturbed, tucked in after each other’s shadow, meek and respectful towards the ancient tradition.

Let your elegance cascade over your shoulder as you pull up the fabric diagonally across your chest. Watch how it nestles against your form and speaks of modesty, yet leaves the one side of your torso to feel the open air and rejoice in its sensuality. The sari will now  either fall over your shoulders and protect your arm entirely hiding the soft strength of the same arms that build homes and lives. Or if you need to present yourself in a more formal occasion, it will remain neatly pinned to your shoulder, the folds falling behind in regulated order.

It is not just a garment. It is the heritage of an entire culture, whose patterns speak of the many hopes and dreams and scenes from home. It is a heritage woven by women and children of the past who are binding together the grand-daughters to their grandmothers, knowing that their work is for the worthy alone.

Now it has been done. The last pleats tucked in, the last folds straightened, the pins set. Another identity is born.

Crossroads of shame

I have survived many self-revelations this month. But I have come across one that is slowly eating away at my defenses and therefore I am in a dilemma.

I have dug deeper into my psyche to understand why I prefer rationality over emotions, given that I feel my emotions intensely. Maybe this has something to do with denying my femininity all these years. I am tired of having my sensitivity abused, and so I locked away all these feelings knowing full well that my mental state would be a lot happier under the binding rigid rules of logic. My rationality and perception of reality forms a titanium-alloyed barrier between strong, damaging passions/obsessions and my true self. This compartmentalization has worked wonders to my self-esteem and to the general structuring of my life. I allow myself to feel happy or sad, but never overjoyed or devastated, because I will not let something so subjective affect me so strongly. I simply cannot be eaten away by the products of my own psyche.

When this academic year began, I promised myself that I would strictly put an active barrier in my mind to the possibility of romantic relationships. Given how awful my freshman year experiences were, I feel like the rest of my years in college will simple be spent in cleaning up the mess that I made in my naivete. Sincerely, I wanted to be able to survive one complete year in college without feeling emotionally swayed by anything that remotely implies romance, or even bordering platonic. The mechanisms I have developed have allowed me to live the other aspects of my life fully and well. However, a latent problem is cropping up a bit more frequently since the span of last semester. Let me deliver devastation right into your lap.

I’ve started feeling slightly attracted to a friend.

The sentence above alone does not capture the despair with which I write today. This is not the result of an arbitrary hormonal upswing. I wanted to write these passing feelings down in my journal. I thought then that I would close the remarks I had made with a comforting “This is probably the only time I’ve redeemed him from my bad books” and so on. What really unleashed the disaster was the slow horrific realization as I combed through my previous diary entries that I had been ignoring this growing problem for a while. There are many entries where I’ve tried to write off these feelings as something else. This soft-spot has been feeding on an incredibly large  reserve of pity, and mixed emotional boundaries. Every time, every single time I’ve delineated the large expansive list of why I cannot, why I must not and the nightmares of the past come back to haunt me.

At the core of all this, I just want to make him happy. Except I can’t because happiness comes from within.

Even now that I write this post, I am trying to reel in the fallout, telling myself to focus on work. But I desperately need an outlet. I need an external source of information to confirm, strengthen and validate the walls of my logic which are crumbling in the onslaught of a new discovery.   Having crushes has been something that has devastated my emotional well-being earlier and I have been so traumatized by those feelings that I am somehow at risk of punishing myself.

I am at the cross-roads of shame because I feel my safety mechanism against pain is hurt (by having a crush), and there’s the bewitching, unfortunately inevitable outcome that awaits me if I choose the path of action. I could not have been more certain of the fact that my “affection”, if it can be called is return. As it is, I don’t feel appreciated by my friends. But to expect someone as emotionally dysfunctional as him to regard me with a soft spot is expecting the infinite from nothing.

There is a beautiful, self-sabotaging lie that is singing to me that perhaps taking action on this opportunity could result in a golden horizon beyond the immediate obvious wreckage of my bleeding heart. No matter what the illusion, I don’t want to give into this. I have been scarred by this enough. Perhaps the very fact that I am even writing this here means that I need an external source to remind myself that I did not put in this much work into building my self-esteem to stumble upon something like this.

I am so incredibly ashamed and angry and disappointed in myself for even having these feelings, let alone conjuring ghosts of action upon them.

In my defense, the only thing I have to proud of is that nobody besides me is aware of this crisis. Being the alleged open book that I am, I have learned how to mask the feelings from the person who I want to bestow them on. How dare I grant myself the privilege to bridge someone else’s deep internal wounds because somehow I just want to see them happy. Is that pity? Is that affection? Given that I’ve never been reciprocated and I certainly won’t with this, why do I subconsciously seek out relationships that are unequal?

Hear my silent teary denial try to form answers to the rhetorical questions posed above. I’m waiting for the wounds of the past to scold me again. I need to remind myself that no matter what I should never ever take action, because the outcomes of all of these is a very obvious rejection, and I do not want to put myself through that degree of self-worthlessness again. I hope to someday look back and laugh at how absurd these feelings are, and not remember them with the terror that I experience now. I watch the shadows of my insecurities run through the streets alongside whispering to the stranded me, “You’re not pretty enough. You’ll never be worthy enough.” and I hear the distant patrols blaring over them. “You have not come this far to give in. Only you know what you bring to the table.”

Until the tears dissolve my fears, I have to continue to run away from this elaborate self-punishment.

Why I dislike extremely mushy stories (too frequently)

...Time to get my anti-mush suit on.... Image credits: http://snigglefritz.deviantart.com/art/Classic-Romance-85676456

…Time to get my anti-mush suit on….
Image credits: http://snigglefritz.deviantart.com/art/Classic-Romance-85676456

I’ve been reading some of the works that my friends have bounced off me. Most of them are stories about passion, romance and more importantly about finding love. While at some level I understand that love is indeed a very important emotion, it seems to me that the romantic aspects of it are more highly exaggerated than other forms. Since I have experienced a relationship before, and several unrequited crushes, I understand that there is some appeal in the depiction of soul and yearning. Yes, I can relate to that once in a while. I know what it’s like to be “lovestruck”. Granted, it’s a beautiful feeling that’s very versatile in terms of writing, creativity and general art content. But forgive me, I need a break from this genre.

I see people walking around holding hands, talking about/doing very romantic things to each other. All of my friends are in very strong relationships too, so you will excuse me if I say that occasionally I do feel an inexplicable pang at not being in the same state as them. However, my opinion on that has changed. Earlier, I was so eager to fill this supposed void, that I went and committed a series of bad mistakes. Then, I recognized that I didn’t need a boyfriend to function optimally. Now, I simply make a mental note in my head that if someday in the future I do land up with a boyfriend, he’ll be a kind, special good human being. It’s okay if I don’t have one now, because somewhere the person I want is evolving into this beautiful state and evolution takes time. This entire anecdote was to prove that whenever I read sappy literature, I am not endowed with a feeling of being “inferior” or “incomplete” because I don’t have some immature, emotion-driven, rationale-deprived soul sharing the responsibility of my existence.
I’m going to detail some other reasons why my impression of such a powerful genre has been ruined (hopefully momentarily):
  • I am an engineering student, most of my reading is technical, prosaic text. My favorite recreation genre is science fiction (no surprise there). When I’m feeling experimental, I would probably forage a bit into a romance story and allowed my emotions to be reduced to jelly. But the keywords here are “Once In A While”. Maybe it’s just my luck but I’ve been swamped with reading these sort of works for the past few days and frankly, beyond a point, it is annoying and pathetic. Some of the best love stories I’ve enjoyed always had the romance as a sub-plot. Which implies that the characters have something else to do with their lives besides weeping incessantly/moping. Love is this chance beautiful thing that’s come their way. But they wouldn’t be completely debilitated or comatose without it.
  • As a reader, and maybe as a human being, I have a certain emotional capacity. This means that the depth of each individual emotion is inversely proportional to its frequency. I will be moved to tears once, twice, maybe even a third time. But I find it impossibly difficult to empathize with your character if he/she starts to condemn the world just because the object of their affections refused to smile their way for a few minutes. No, my heart is not going to break because you were kind to another girl instead of me (especially since I would prefer someone who is uniformly kind to everyone). I get that people in love overreact, and there’s also the whole Art imitates Nature belief from the Renaissance. But after a while, I can’t refrain from earnestly wanting to douse the protagonist in cold water and force them awake to the reality of life. There is no humanly possible way your heart strings are torn every single time. No way.
  • As a self-proclaimed (rather pretentious, I apologize) authority on unreciprocated crushes, I know what it’s like to suffer very painful self-esteem issues and deal with the monsters in your head. I know how helpless and pathetic and terrible it feels to realize that your emotional well-being is so heavily dependent on some other authority who probably doesn’t even register that you exist. I don’t judge people for being insecure. We all have our own problems to deal with. But what really annoys me about romance writing and is how sometimes the literature seems to feed into the low-self-esteem obsession negatively. Again, this is also based on frequency and even the mood of the reader. When you’re feeling nostalgic or depressed and you want to empathize with a statement like, “It’s so hard to stop hating yourself because he/she didn’t love you back” [or some such equivalent], I completely understand. You’re allowed to have brief lapses into grief. But too many of those lapses and we have a wallowing specimen. When you’re in that sinkhole (as I’ve been), it takes a lot of effort to to start loving and respecting yourself. Literature or ideas that convey that you should continue missing the creature that hurt you simply disrespects the effort it takes to recover from such a harsh self-lesson.
  • Absolutely outrageous comparisons annoy me. It takes the skill of very few talented writers to pull off a romance story filled with poignant silences and the like. As a logic-driven person by nature, I fail to comprehend how there is supposed to be a deeper meaning in a non-answer. Other such “deep” examples happen to include a couple that has a sparse conversation over breakfast and then you’re supposed to realize that the breakfast is actually an extended metaphor for their relationship and how the butter can be compared to diplomatic conversations smoothing out their life and so on. These authors are striving to evoke emotion by deriving meaning from literally nothing. Much as I appreciate quiet, reflective pieces, I do not like metaphors or comparisons that are “so far out” from my mental capacity that I need to strain myself to understand them. It’s bad enough that its packed with mush. It’s worse if you expect me to infer it from trivial examples and no psychological precedent. Breakfast is breakfast. Domestic squabble is domestic squabble. They are not interchangeable.
To be fair, this was also biased by my innate distaste for the genre. This genre has been popularized by so many high school girls and unbelievably large number of authors that without a truly fabulous setting or incredible talent, its all too easy to fall into a category of stale. Perhaps I should go finish a problem set or two and then return to this genre, in order to redeem its value. Maybe it is a reflection of my own emotional short-comings that I can’t empathize with their love stories as well as I’d like to. Until then, to all my story writing friends, please explore other genres. Seriously. Or send me the non-romance ones. Right now, I’d much rather read a botany essay than another one of those drama-oriented works.

Worries

A letter from a child to her mother. It’s a very telling story of how sometimes, the issues we have and the problem of body-image comes from those around us trying to make us fit some prescribed mold.

Mad Queen's Delirium

Dear Mom:

I am scared. A little bit. But above all, my chest hurts.

 

I am scared because I feel I (if not “we”) have reached a point where I can’t even talk to you. And I have no idea when exactly we reached this point. I am resorting to writing to you now, instead of talking, because it’s just not working anymore. But why does this have to be, mom? I love you so much, and you know this, I know you do, even if sometimes you like to put words in my mouth, and then yell at me for them. And let’s face it, I am no saintly victim either. I jump at you, as soon as you open your mouth I jump and stance myself in defense mode, even though I know you love me too. But why?

I feel like we have reached a point where…

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Tomboy vs. Girly

Like most teenagers, growing up was not an easy process for me. I realized that I wanted to be treated like an adult and that would shake the foundations of some of my childhood beliefs very severely. I didn’t have issues with accepting responsibility, or duties. I was having an internal crisis at being able to deal with all of these changes that I was going through my personal life and trying to manage the world’s growing expectations on me for the same matter as well. It was a time for me to realize that I was going to have to expand to fill more roles. I was going to define some fundamentals of being me, and it wasn’t going to be easy. From being just a kid, a student, a girl, a daughter, a friend I had to expand to being a young woman, a caretaker, a confidante. And somewhere in this story, being accepted played a major part in how I viewed myself.Unfortunately, my peer group and I did not board the roller coaster of change at the same time. So, they went on ahead without me, experiencing their joys and fears and curiosities simultaneously, while I was a late rider, left to those trials and tribulations alone. More so, it was the problem of being able to deal with that loneliness that really bothered me. After being shunned for being “weird” and/or non-conformist (which was a whole other conflict in itself: Did I want to belong with these people or should I carve a niche for myself?), I was left with a lasting sense of inadequacy. There was something that everyone else had that I didn’t. I couldn’t quite place what, but it engendered this highly annoying habit I developed of questioning my self-esteem. This cycle continued until it came to a point where I was constantly seeking validation of my worth from other people around me.This was also the rather sensitive time period of my life to be exposed to the ideas of relationships that were beyond platonic. Forget the continuous on-going discovery and explorations of sexuality, this was literally a moment of First Contact with the alien race that would someday provide a specimen for me to select as a mate. The hormones seem to push up this selection process on my priority list until I was actively assessing almost every accessible member of this species.

And so it began. I watched as some of the girls around me grew into boy-obsessed, “girly”, if I may misuse the word, beings, while the guys were more withdrawn and caught up with their own lives, which seemed so much cooler, and less dependent on some shallow expression of appreciation.   That was how my preferences grew. I began to dress with apparently less attention to what I was wearing, though deep inside me I knew I was being careful enough to camouflage myself. I listened to more heavy metal than pop. I played more video games than the girls around me did. Everything about me screamed of being a boy metaphorically stuck in a girl’s skin,  because I was trying so hard to emulate the very thing I was trying to understand. At a more subconscious level, I think I chose to be that way so that even if I approached a guy, and attempted to actively befriend him, I would have some grounds of common interest to begin with. Thus I aggressively called myself a tomboy, indulged in classically “male” habits, disregarded all semblance of fragility and made a stoic appearance of being different. In doing so, I also committed to shunning the other larger group of people as “girly”, which was, until quite recently, a state that I swore to myself I would never stoop to.

For a while, I was good at it. And even now, I think I still believe in some of the positives of being a tomboy. It felt good to be different from a common group and still be part of a sub-community that was large enough to be categorized by it’s own niche. It gave me just the right degree of attention I wanted, just enough to help me stand out, just enough to help me blend in. For a while, my internal conflicts were appeased. But then I realized that no matter which category I chose to belong to, I would always be compared to someone else who subscribed to the same philosophy. For someone who’s self-esteem was wobbly, at best, it was a serious blow to find myself out-done in every aspect of some sub-culture that I had chosen to idolize over another.

Perhaps another evolution that affected my self-esteem was my interaction with the guys in my new tomboy mode. The accessibility of common topics made it easier to be friends. But the easier it was to be a friend, the harder it became to cross the boundary beyond  being “just friends”. I had achieved my first target: being able to befriend the alien species. I even came across a few specimens who would serve as eligible candidates for the mating selection process. But how was I to convince myself that any of these would accept me? Especially since they were now accustomed to viewing me as one of their own kind and not as something exotically different?

It took me a few more years of maturity to realize that any category I wanted to belong to did not truly encompass the entirety of me. And so it was going to be the rest of my life. We don’t necessarily choose to ascribe to each and every principle of a belief we personally resonate with. We choose the one which has the largest number of positives, imbibe them and continue to find other truths which fill up the rest of our answers to life. So, while a part of me remained a tomboy, another part of me found immense strength in accepting the fact that I was a woman and that all of these changes that were happening to me were perfectly normal. It took me a long time to accept my more feminine attributes as I had suppressed them, especially those about my budding sexuality.

It was then that I decided how important it was for me to “be myself”. Of course, at first the prospect seemed terrifying. Once more, I was making an outcast out of myself. But then, as I grew to understand people better, I realized that everyone was in search of some form of identity. People who are constantly morphing find it difficult to accept a permanent bound to any one philosophy. Like me, they would be searching too. I was not alone. I was going to fit in this world okay, just like the rest of them. It was going to be just the right degree of different, and I would still have the comfort of homogeneity to support me. By affiliating myself to any one such group, I was cutting off the benefits of another. In order to experience the best of multiple worlds, I needed to get my internal compass straightened out. I was going to be me, no matter what. If I chose to indulge in an activity that could be categorized as boyish, or if I chose to dress myself up and feel girly, I would no longer have to deal with a conflict of principle. The essence of being me would try to encompass the best (or whatever I thought was best) of these diverse lifestyles.